Fact or Fiction: Do Medical Dramas Accurately Portray Medical Staff?


ER TV Nurses

By Erin Wallace, contributor

Many professions have long been dramatized on television — police officers and detectives in shows such as NYPD Blue and Law and Order; crime scene investigators in CSI; FBI profilers in Criminal Minds; even teachers in Boston Public and Glee. Fictional doctors and nurses have also been the focus of many television shows. These shows' primary purpose is entertainment, but how accurate are nurses and doctors portrayed on TV? Take a look at some of these familiar TV dramas to find out whether each show is mostly fact or mainly fiction.

Grey's Anatomy

When people think of medical dramas, Grey's Anatomy is often the one that comes to mind. First airing in 2005, the show developed a loyal following of fans, and that continues to the present day. It's currently the longest-running, scripted primetime show of those that air on ABC. As of January 2020, it's in its 16th season.

While many fans find Grey's to be extremely entertaining, medical professionals find its portrayal of Seattle Grace Hospital to be more fiction than fact. For instance, in many episodes, interns perform surgeries routinely by themselves, which is not standard medical practice. In addition, hospital superiors are often overridden in decision-making processes, which also is not something that typically happens in a real-life work environment.

Also, characters in the show, particularly surgical residents, are portrayed as being proficient in all types of medicine. They might be delivering a baby in one episode and performing brain surgery in the next. In real life, surgical residents pick a specialty and grow into it over time.

However, some things shown on the show are accurate, and the producers and writers work with medical advisors to help them get certain details right. For instance, an OR nurse is always present during surgery, and some of the instruments they use are actual medical tools.


Airing from 2001-2010, Scrubs might actually be the most accurate medical show on this list. It follows the daily life and ups and downs of J.D. (Zach Braff), Turk (Donald Faison), Elliot Reed (Sarah Chalke) and Carla Espinosa, RN (Judy Reyes).

Scrubs often depicts any one of the characters engaging in silly, humorous antics and sometimes comes off more like a live-action cartoon than a TV show. But while many other medical shows focus on crisis situations and how doctors and TV nurses end up saving the day, Scrubs instead shows what happens on normal days and how ordinary cases are handled. Zach Braff's character J.D. often interjects the show's action with his own narration or internal monologue.

Some medical professionals think Scrubs is pretty accurate when it comes to dramatizing hospital life. For example, the character Carla Espinosa, portrayed by Judy Reyes, plays the Head RN on the show. She is in charge of tutoring J.D. and Eliot when they first arrive at the hospital. Carla's character consistently demonstrates a commitment to patients, takes initiative and shows extreme attention to detail, just as any real-life nurse would.

It makes sense, since the show's creator, Bill Lawrence, based many Scrubs episodes around stories from his college friend, Jonathan Doris, who went on to become a cardiologist and served as a medical advisor on the show.


Created by famous novelist and doctor Michael Crichton, ER is one of the more accurate medical dramas, especially when it comes to nursing. It ran on NBC for fifteen seasons, from 1994-2009.

Characters Abby Lockhart, Carol Hathaway, Malik, Haleh and Lydia were five of the most seen TV nurses on ER. Fans of the show liked that nurses and doctors were portrayed as being equally important in the patient care process. On other shows, nurses are often shown as fun background characters, but on ER, nurses were often at the forefront of what was happening in each episode.

At one point during the show's run, Carol considers going to medical school to become a doctor. And in spite of her self-doubt about doing this, the show makes it clear that if she had, she would have been highly qualified. In the end, she decides against it, knowing she is much happier in her role as a nurse.

An ongoing theme on the show was that nurses are indispensable and often under-appreciated. Real-life doctors and nurses believe the show accurately portrays much of the hectic lifestyle, stress and excitement of working in an emergency room.

So, the next time you're watching your favorite medical drama, challenge yourself to critique the action, and you can decide for yourself whether it's accurate or the stuff of a great imagination.

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